NFL

Heinicke earns respect in Washington - but what next for the quarterback?

By Sports Desk January 10, 2021

Taylor Heinicke was not able to draw up a famous win for Washington on Saturday, but the quarterback studying for an engineering degree may have laid the foundations for his future in the NFL.

Heinicke threw for 306 yards and a touchdown, as well as rushing for 46 yards and a further score, in a 31-23 playoff defeat for the NFC East champions to Tampa Bay.

Those stack up as impressive numbers for someone who was not even meant to be playing in the Wild Card game in the first place.

Alex Smith had steered Washington to the divisional title in Week 17, yet he failed to overcome a calf injury in time to start against the Buccaneers.

With their first-choice option ruled out, Washington turned to a 27-year-old they had only signed to their practice squad in early December, an undrafted quarterback who had spent time with four other teams in the league and who had previously thrown a grand total of 58 pass attempts in his NFL career.

The new addition did catch the eye when coming in to replace the underperforming Dwayne Haskins, Washington's first-round pick in 2019, in the fourth quarter of a Week 16 defeat to the Carolina Panthers. Still, this was different. This was the playoffs. This was a game against Tom Brady. This was in primetime.

While there was no fairytale result for the underdog in the end, Heinicke emerged as the headline story from the opening day of the postseason.

His performance made him just the third quarterback to have at least 300 passing yards and 40 rushing yards in a playoff debut, a feat previously achieved by Daunte Culpepper and Tim Tebow (who both won, by the way).

"I have nothing but respect for number four," Washington receiver Terry McLaurin said of his quarterback after the loss.

"The way he came in and handled his business on a moment's notice when we found out that Alex wasn't going to be able to go. He was just prepared for the moment. That's what this league is about, being prepared for your moment."

So, what's next for the new hero? Heinicke is set to become a free agent but made clear in the aftermath that he would like to be back with Washington. The franchise ended the Haskins experiment considerably early by releasing him last month and while Smith is still under contract, he will be 37 by the time the next regular season begins.

Head coach Ron Rivera - who described his quarterback's display as "gutsy" - would not be drawn over the team's plans for the future in the immediate aftermath.

"We'll see what happens. I was just very proud of what he did, coming out and competing the way he did and helping us get where we are today," Rivera, who had previously worked with Heinicke at the Carolina Panthers, told the media.

There may be alternative options elsewhere too, considering plenty will have seen what Heinicke produced against the Bucs. At the very least, he profiles as a solid back-up in a sport where they are coveted – teams are willing to pay to have a reliable understudy waiting in the wings.

"I'm proud of myself and I'm happy that coaches believed in me and gave me the opportunity. Hopefully I can do it again next year," Heinicke said.

"I want to be in the NFL, I want to keep playing ball. It's a dream of mine and [I will] keep working towards it."

Heinicke should get his wish to keep playing, whether that be in Washington again or somewhere else.

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    Can Paris Saint-Germain get back on track? Are champions Lille in contention again? Could any top French sides face the drop?

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    The Stats Perform League Prediction Model, created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, has analysed the division ahead of the new season to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

    The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results, with weighting based on recency and the quality of opposition. The season is then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

    What does that mean for PSG and the rest of the French elite? Read on to find out...

    POCH'S PSG TITLE FAVOURITES

    It will surprise nobody, but PSG have been identified as the clear pre-season favourites. They are given a huge 79.5 per cent chance of reclaiming their title after falling behind Lille last term.

    The signings of Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Georginio Wijnaldum should ensure PSG get back on track, while Mike Maignan, Boubakary Soumare and coach Christophe Galtier have all left Lille.

    The defending champions are still considered PSG's most likely challengers, though.

    Lille have a 12.4 per cent likelihood of retaining the championship, which puts them well clear of Lyon (5.7 per cent) in third. Monaco's 2.4 per cent bid to repeat their 2016-17 success makes them the fourth and final side to be given any chance at all.

    TOP FOUR SEEMS SET IN STONE

    Four into three does not go, so at least one of the title contenders will miss out on the Champions League. They should all make the top four, though, with Europa League qualification guaranteed for fourth place.

    PSG unsurprisingly look certain for one of the two automatic Champions League spots, rated at 94.9 per cent.

    Lille are considered most likely to join them at 54.6 per cent, leaving Lyon to take third – the Champions League third qualifying round (35.2) per cent – and Monaco fourth – the Europa League group stage (40.0 per cent).

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    Every team in the league have at least a 0.1 per cent likelihood of finishing fifth – a Europa Conference League play-off round place – although PSG are joined by newly promoted pair Troyes and Clermont with the most remote chance.

    BIG-NAME BORDEAUX IN BOTHER?

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    THOMPSON-HERAH:

    Rio 2016 – 100m

    Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was attempting to become the first woman to win the 100m title at three straight Olympics but injuries had plagued her 2016 season and she could only finish third. Instead, it was Thompson-Herah who won gold for Jamaica in a time of 10.71s. "When I crossed the line and glanced across to see I was clear I didn't quite know how to celebrate. There is a big screen back home in my community in Jamaica. I can't imagine what is happening there right now," she said on that occasion.

    Rio 2016 – 200m 

    Only a few days later, Thompson-Herah became the first woman since Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988 to do the double in the women's premier sprint events (Marion Jones had done so in 2000 but later had her medals stripped). Then world champion Dafne Schippers tried to reel in her rival on the home stretch, but there was no stopping Thompson-Herah who crossed the line first in a time of 21.78s. "I know Dafne is a strong finisher, so I knew I had to have a strong finish, as well, just keep my composure and execute straight to the line," she said of the win.

    Tokyo 2020 – 100m

    Injuries had plagued Thompson-Herah in the intervening years but her form was peaking ahead of reaching these Games. And it all came together beautifully on Saturday when Thompson-Herah sprinted an Olympic-record time of 10.61s to lead a Jamaica one-two-three (Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson completed the podium) and defend her 100m title. "I could have gone faster if I wasn't pointing and celebrating early. But that shows there is more in store, so hopefully, one day, I can unleash that time," she said.

    Tokyo 2020 – 200m 

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    Beijing 2008 – 100m 

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    Bolt had been beaten by a young pretender in the form of compatriot Yohan Blake in both 100 and 200m races in the 2012 season. But come Games time, it was Bolt who once again reigned supreme – clocking an Olympic record 9.63s (he had beaten his world benchmark from Beijing by this point) to defend the gold. "I tell you people it's all about business for me, and I brought it. When it comes down to business, I know what to do. The crowd were wonderful. I could feel that energy. I feel extremely good and happy," Bolt said.

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    An ever-relaxed Bolt enjoyed more success when he again came out on top against Blake in the 200m, winning with a time of 19.32s. In doing so, he became the first man to defend the 200m title and first to complete the 100-200m double twice. On the moment of history, he said: "I've got nothing left to prove. I've showed the world I'm the best and, right now, I just want to enjoy myself. This is my moment. I'll never forget this."

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